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‘Herpes’ not implicated in causing multiple sclerosis (MS)

Epstein Barr viruses

This week BBC Radio 4’s ‘Science Now’ covered research into the causes of MS and similar diseases. Within fifteen minutes we had three phone calls telling us about this, because the word ‘herpes’ was mentioned.

Listeners who paid careful attention to what was said will have realised that the virus being discussed was Epstein Barr virus, one of the herpes family of viruses, but not herpes simplex of either type – so emphatically not the viruses that cause genital herpes.

Epstein-Barr virus (humanherpes virus 4) is the possible trigger for multiple sclerosis. The German scientist who was interviewed for ‘Science Now’ loosely referred to the ‘surname’ of the whole family of herpes viruses as he explained that it was Epstein-Barr that was in the frame.

His new study builds on previous research and provides further evidence that multiple sclerosis may be caused by a viral infection. The suspected virus, the Epstein-Barr virus, is most commonly known as the cause of mononucleosis or kissing disease. Most people become infected with it at some point in their lives, often with no symptoms.

Click for the page that explains all the herpes viruses: https://herpes.org.uk/nine-human-herpes-viruses/

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Coachella festival “herpes epidemic” invented by a smartphone app and publicised by gullible media

Coachella, the Californian music festival hit the news last week – for all the wrong reasons. Stories of a Coachella herpes epidemic were published by every second rate gossip blog and then repeated by news outlets that should have known better, like Newsweek, Metro and the Daily Mail.

Photo of Coachella music festival.

There was no epidemic. The facts don’t stack up, as any journalist with half a brain should have realised, but the lure of another herpes headline, with accompanying clicks, was too much to resist.

The implication of the fake news coverage is that people are spreading herpes through having casual sex at the festival. Well festival goers might be having sex , but stories of a herpes epidemic are not supported by the facts.

HerpAlert is a smartphone app. The spike in the numbers of people who contacted HerpAlert began as soon as Coachella started. This is well inside the incubation period for herpes which is upwards of two days and often four/five days or up to two weeks. This means that the people who contacted HerpAlert already had herpes before they arrived at the festival. They were existing carriers who wished to use HerpAlert services.

Jose Arbello of the Riverside Department of Public Health said that his did not see any evidence of a rise in herpes cases, despite recent reports that HerpAlert saw a near tenfold uptick in cases in Southern California during the festival.

“My first reaction is that the whole thing is kind of silly because symptoms don’t typically show up in 24 hours,” said Dr Jill Grimes, a family doctor and author of Seductive Delusions: How Everyday People Catch STDs. “It can take anywhere from two to 12 days for symptoms to appear, although the average is three to four days,” says Grimes, who is on faculty at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and is spokesperson for the American Academy of Family Physicians. 

An official with the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health said,
“Herpes is not a reportable disease, as it is very common and has extremely rare complications; so trends in herpes cases are not easily tracked.”

It’s possible that HerpAlert’s spike in people using the app could be a result of increased advertising or marketing, a possibility that was raised by officials.

So there you have it. Don’t believe everything you read in the papers or online, especially in Newsweek, Metro or the Daily Mail.

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When will there be a cure for herpes?

A member just asked us this question. We get asked “will there be a herpes cure” every day. It proves how successful the aciclovir (Zovirax) marketing campaign was in the 1980s.

a possible herpes cure as a pill?

The masterstroke was to call herpes ‘incurable’ to make it seem important. (There is in truth, almost nothing about genital herpes that is important, so the drug company did some creative thinking.) This was a brilliant idea because it ensured the success of aciclovir. They put herpes on the map and it has never looked back!

What Humpty Dumpty said

Incurable is an ‘Alice in Wonderland’ word. It can mean whatever you want it to mean. If you are diagnosed with terminal cancer, you have something that is genuinely incurable and you are going to die. If you have a bad cold, you have an infection that medical professionals call ‘incurable’ because there is nothing that they can prescribe for you that is going to make the cold go away more quickly.  (You can take paracetamol and that can help with the symptoms, but the cold will last just as long.) Cold sores and genital herpes are not incurable because symptoms go away by themselves without treatment. If herpes was incurable, the sores would never go away.

In fact, for most people, the virus is so well controlled that they don’t even notice enough to realise that they have caught anything at all, so they are not even diagnosed. What the drug company’s marketing campaign was capitalising on was the ability of the herpes simplex virus to hide in the body and sometimes cause more symptoms later. They could have called it ‘clever’, but that doesn’t sound scary.

It’s a strategy

Hiding is a common strategy for infections. We all carry around many things that do this: chickenpox, glandular fever, facial cold sores, thrush. They have not been marketed as ‘incurable’, but they all stay in the body and may cause symptoms from time to time. Some people notice more than others.

To get back to your question: Millions of pounds are spent every year on research into new treatments and vaccines for herpes. We write about this in every issue of SPHERE. [The magazine sent every 3 months to our subscribers.]

The development I am most excited about is a new antiviral drug that looks to be better than the ones we have now and may be used in combination with aciclovir. We will see if it gets to market. [Updates will be in SPHERE.]

Don’t be misled by marketing

The ‘incurable’ word led to the stigma. The stigma led to more research into treatments because people have been made anxious enough to buy drugs and supplements that most of the time, they probably don’t need. Nearly everyone diagnosed with herpes asks about a cure. Now you know why.

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It’s not JUST the cold sores that increase the chance of Alzheimer’s!

Dr Ruth Itzhaki

Dr Ruth Itzhaki has been working on a possible link between cold sores and the development of Alzheimer’s for a long time.

Now she is suggesting it is time to investigate the use of antivirals in mid-life, with the view of preventing Alzheimer’s later on.

She says “We discovered in 1991 that in many elderly people HSV1 is also present in the brain. And in 1997 we showed that it confers a strong risk of Alzheimer’s disease when present in the brain of people who have a specific gene known as Apoe-e4.”

She adds ”The likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s disease is 12 times greater for Apoe-e4 carriers who have HSV1 in the brain than for those with neither factor.”

This is why we don’t see Alzheimer’s developing in the all of the 67% of the population who carry herpes simplex type 1 virus .

For cold sores to be a problem, the person has to also have the unusual gene. Wikipedia tells us that only 14% of the population has the Apoe-e4 variant.

Dr Itzhaki suggests that “It’s time to investigate the use of antivirals [aciclovir or other] in mid-life with the view of preventing Alzheimer’s later on.”

More research will be needed to see how effective aciclovir is in preventing the development of Alzheimer’s in people with type 1. It is such an easy treatment, if it works this will be most welcome!

And this research is totally irrelevant to people with genital infection.

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How herpes got its stigma

“It is easier to fool people than to convince them that they have been fooled.” Mark Twain

(You can download this article on stigma as a PDF if you wish.)

For anyone in the twenty first century it is hard to believe that there was a time when ‘herpes’ was not a stigmatised and feared condition. But this is true. Less than forty years ago genital herpes was largely ignored. Newly diagnosed patients were not made to feel that a common skin condition had just ended their chance of having future relationships. Doctors knew that they were simply dealing with the manifestation of the common facial cold sore on a different site and they treated it appropriately. In the early 1980s things changed. How and why did this happen?

The history of the genital herpes stigma dates back a mere 30 years. Before then, the condition, which was first named by the Ancient Greeks, was well known to doctors – but it was not invested with the terror it commands today and the word herpes barely registered with the public.

Continue reading How herpes got its stigma